HC Deb 28 October 1937 vol 328 cc259-60W
Mr. Craven-Ellis

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether, in view of the serious consequences which may arise out of the practice of foreign-owned, controlled, and manned ships being registered as British and thereby securing the protection of the British Navy, he will consider an immediate amendment to the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, which will cancel all British registration of ships unless they are owned and controlled to 100 per cent. and manned to at least 90 per cent. by British subjects?

Mr. Stanley

Under the Merchant Shipping Acts a ship can only be registered as a British ship if it is owned by a British subject or by a company established under the laws of His Majesty's dominions and having its principal place of business in those dominions. Any requirement that capital and control shall be 100 per cent. British, while fundamentally altering our general commercial policy in this respect, both as regards shipping and other industries, could, in practice, be easily evaded, and would not necessarily eliminate the difficulties which my hon. Friend has in mind.

The present requirements as regards personnel have lead to a steady decrease in the percentage of foreigners employed in British ships, which has fallen to 3.6 per cent. in 1936 from 7.4 per cent. in 1930. Any extension of the present restrictions would be unlikely to lead to increased employment of British personnel, though it might have the effect of lessening the number of ships on the British Register. Any such measures might well be detrimental to the national interest, for past experience has shown that ships on the British Register can in times of emergency be effectively controlled by the Government.

I may add, however, that within the existing law it has been found possible to take effective action where it appears that provisional registration under the British flag has been sought only as a temporary expedient.